Talking to the Polls: Power, Time and the Politics of Representation in Two South African Radio Talk Shows

Publication Type:

Journal Article


African Studies, Volume 70, p.437–454 (2011)



Elections have become a major feature with which countries attempt to reinforce their identity of being democratic and inclusive modern states. In South Africa, four general elections have been conducted to elect the president of the Republic since the demise of apartheid. During each of these elections different popular cultural forms are deployed in the campaigns and other related discussions around the electoral process and its larger implications for the nation. This article examines the way in which two radio talk shows functioned as popular cultural platforms for debates around the 2009 South African elections. Drawing on material from {SAfm's} {‘The} After Eight Debate’ and Talk Radio 702's {‘The} Redi Direko Show’ the article argues that debates during election periods on these radio talk shows reflected a consciousness about time and contestations for power as participants tried to use the shows to reposition themselves and negotiate new identities in the quest for advantage. Adopting a qualitative methodological approach, the article combines material from recorded episodes of the two radio talk shows that dwell on issues around the 2009 general elections, with interviews with purposively sampled participants on the show for the purpose of analysis. It concludes that radio talk shows do not just open up the public domain during major political events such as elections, they also contribute to our understanding of the essence of time and power relations which define contemporary South African society.

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